Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Anonymously yours



This month has been a particularly busy one for us.. what with festival and holidays. But we found time to watch a movie together. 

The movie, “Lunch Box” is one of the best I have seen in recent times. The story. to put it simply is about a young woman who is a great cook but has a very unappreciative husband. She cooks wonderful delicacies for her husband, packs them into his lunch box and sends them through the Mumbai Dubba system . By a unique chance of fate, there is a mix up and her lunch box does not reach her husband but an unknown man who works in an office somewhere in the city. This middle aged widower leads a lonely life and has no friends. He is initially surprised that the restaurant that usually sends him lunch has improved its quality so suddenly, but after sometime realizes that the lunch was not meant for him. The sender realizes it too. However she finds in this stranger a person who really appreciates her cooking!  She sends him notes along with the lunch box to which he replies. It is initially about the cooking but after sometime they start sharing snippets about their lives. They start looking forward to these small letters accompanying the lunch box. 

This story brought to light something that I am increasingly observing in our urban existence today.  Many of us lead very lonely lives. There are some like the protagonist Sajan of the “Lunch Box”  who are really lonely as they live alone, there are others who are part of a family but are lonely because they are unable to communicate with the rest of the family. The later category of  individuals are much more in number than we would care to admit. There are those who spend hours at work and by the time they get home, are too tired to spend time connecting with family. And then there are those who do have the time but have nothing to communicate about. Husbands and wives leading separate lives under the same roof. No, I am not being judgmental.. I am just saying that it is a  phenomenon that probably existed for sometime but what might be different now is that spouses who are feeling this sense of disconnect are trying to reach out to people outside of the family. 

There are for instance, office relationships that are  more than friendship. After spending nearly eight or more hours with a colleague it is but natural that a man or woman would relate to  the colleague than to the spouse who they see after  6.00PM.  All of us are familiar with this. But I see now another emerging trend. I find people reaching out to complete strangers. 

This is particularly so with those who use social media like face book.! I have observed some people  flirting online with  absolute strangers!. While they may not actually approach a random person with a friend request, they often approach perspms who might be friend of a friend, someone whose interactions they have observed. This third party, generally somenone of the opposite sex might arouse their interest! Some of them are quite casual about this and refer to them as their “facebook friends” !!  I don’t know if these people ever meet outside of the virtual world or are content with connecting with each other online. I don’t probe because I don’t want to know… 
 
I am now beginning to wonder if people are doing this on the internet because of the anonymity it offers you? Like in the movie “Lunch Box” , does anonymity help in opening yourself up and saying and doing things that you may  not do or say with a known person? Can you be yourself with someone you don’t know? I used to think it was the other way around. We lower our barriers and expose our innermost selves to those who are closest to us because we know they will not take advantage of us. But I think with a stranger it is probably the opposite. You don’t have to be yourself, you can be someone else! A quiet person can appear gregarious and a timid person can find courage to say outrageous things in a virtual context. 

I remember when we were in school, there used to be this concept of having penpals.  There was an organization called the International Youth Centre ( I think that was the name) where you could register for  penpals. Invariably all of us girls wanted male friends from the western world. There used to be a few letters and then a request for photographs at which point we would stop corresponding !!!  Some of our parents knew we had pen pals from Norway, Sweden or Timbuktu and some did not.  In those days it was the only way to interact with someone male . We would pass this pen friend thing off as a school activity and parents would not bother us much about it. And the farther the country was the better ( as the fellow could definitely not find his way to your doorstep) it used to be. But those teenage fancies came to an end when we entered college and encountered real members of the opposite sex. The real interactions replaced the imagined ones. 

But the reverse seems to be happening now. I am not a prude as in I think someone unhappy in a relationship has every right to seek solace in another one. But the question is whether a virtual one with a little known person is the right choice? I guess a stranger comes with his/ her own attraction and advantages. For instance there would be no gossip.. or that is what people think. But what they forget is that a virtual flirtation does not escape the notice of other friends. Sometimes they probably do guess others might be watching and might move on to the chat mode…!! 

As a person who likes to observe society I would say that we are undergoing some sort of change. Today’s Indian woman , particularly the urban educated woman is not the quietly suffering kind. She may not do anything very spectacularly revolutionary but she is asserting herself by seeking out companionship to meet her own emotional needs. The social media and the anonymity it offers is probably the first step towards this. It gives her a confidence to voice things that a face to face interaction might not. 

People might argue saying that such behavior is an indication of a breakdown of social institutions like marriage and family and I would be inclined to agree with them. Social institutions are but a creation of the need of the times. If human beings get their emotional sustenance through interfacing at the workplace or through the world wide web, then probably that is what the world is going towards. Children need not be conceived by man and woman coming together. Sperm banks  and rented wombs might become the order of the day!   Biological origin can remain anonymous. It really does not matter as long as society gets used to it.. Sometimes I think it might be better that way. Anonymous relationships might not bring with them problems like possessiveness and jealousy..!!! There might be less of violence and may be there would be more peace in this world?

What do you think?

( Wishing all of you a very happy Vijaydashami/ Dusshera and Eid)

19 comments:

Kalpana Solsi said...

It was IYO, International Youth Organisation. I too had pen-pals but girls. one was from UK, a second generation Punjabi girl settled in U.K. and another one from Germany and it was fun corresponding to them.I think i would prefer to watch this movie.

Ravi said...

Loneliness is "cruel", in young or old age. Small kids are worst affected. Adults can express their loneliness, they can come out of it if they are smart, but kids can do.

Also, loneliness + anonymity + internet is a deadly combo.

Saumya said...

Great points and a very thought provoking post. I think that no matter the context, people look outside a relationship for a variety of relationships. Maybe social media is just providing easier opportunities.

mahabore said...

Loved the post and how you linked up The Lunchbox with what is happening in Indian cities.

However, my personal opinion is that India and Indian society is probably not ready right now for being comfortable with the complete breakdown of marriage as an institution. Yes, it might have already started in the big cities, but you need to remember that India exists mostly in the semi urban and rural areas. It might take a while longer for such things to become more prevalent in our country.

The-Anon Strikes said...

The issue with this approach is people who are open to anonymous relationships are far more selfish than the spouse with whom one feels the disconnect. That is why this approach is very popular with tricksters and weak people easily fall for them.

When a relationship comes with no commitment at all, imagine the kind of people who get into it and how long that will last. Once it ends people will want more such relationships with others. Because now they are addicted to it.

On the topic of emotional needs - As you go on you'll find that they are nothing but your moments of weakness. It is better to become a stronger and mature personality than indulge in such silly actions which puts your money and much more at risk.

KParthasarathi said...

I haven't seen the movie but has rave reviews.It is different from the usual run of the mill type.
Old order yields place to new order.Things keep changing.There was no co-ed school in my days and today girls outnumber the boys.The advance of technology starting with ordinary phone,internet and mobile phone has made access easier and with certain privacy.This emboldens people who would normally not be seen with strangers reach out to them and become virtual friends.The ambience in office with long hours also is an enabling factor.Care must be exercised before parting with personal information with all and sundry, Back ground check and abundant caution is necessary and certain boundaries kept depending on one's circumstances.Two decades hence things may be vastly different that you would not be visualising now..

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Kalpana, yes you should watch the movie. It is really good!!

@ Ravi, Children are more vulnerable to anything

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Mahabore smaller towns are not so badly hit by the loneliness syndrome. People still have social support systems in the form of extended families and neighbors.

@ Sowmya, you have raised an interesting point, maybe people do get want variety in terms of relationships...

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ The-Anon Strikes, I agree, emotional vulnerability ( I prefer that to calling it emotional weakness) is an important reason why people fall for strangers. But sometimes that stranger too might be a similar person. So it is two emotionally vulnerable people who come together, probably stay together and then move out ( all this being real and virtual). Staying "strong" for many people comes with a price. It takes a toll on you and sometimes alters you for the worse.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ KP, agree with you about everything. But I think people who do these anonymous flirtations are willing to take that risk.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

Hi Meera,

I too enjoyed watching 'The Lunchbox' because it is so realistic and thought provoking. Many of us lead very lonely lives because of the choices we make. We make those choices perhaps for a better lifestyle, career opportunity and so on but often we don't realize the emotional vaccum it tosses us into. Whereas, when I go to life in my birthplace which is perhaps still not as developed as a city, the relationships are much stronger because people are still living with limited means of access to material things, there is less display of status or wealth and their life, while it may appear laidback, is absolute bliss because there are no tensions there. People lead simple lives and live not to eat, drink or be merry but to actually live for other as well. There are no strangers there, everyone shows respect to everyone else but if you ask an outsider, they will see it as a laidback place where people haven't achieved anything in their careers. Again, I can't be judgmental about this because I chose to live in Delhi for a better career opportunity but not a day goes by when I don't feel lonely. One day back at my old place and I feel loved and cared for. I don't know if I am making any sense...sigh!

And you are right, people are reaching out to complete strangers. I do so myself. When I was on the lookout for a new job, those whom I knew in person were hesitating to help. Whereas friends on Facebook didn't hesitate to get me job offers and went out of their way to arrange meetings with the HR and to follow up with the HR. Same thing when my mother wasn't well and I wasn't around. Friends on social media offered to help get the best doctor's appointment and so on. Another experience - I had a conservative Muslim friend on Facebook who got married and I wanted to send him and his bride a gift but they were in Qatar. Another friend on Facebook from Qatar offered to go buy the gift and have it delivered. The gift that he painstakingly bought was a beautiful Turkish prayer mat. That so delighted my Muslim friend and his wife and they said "Knowing you are such a devout Hindu, we never expected such a gift. This means so much to us." At the end of the day, we remember how others make us feel. And for me, personally, social media has been godsend. I am able to connect with all these strangers but so far, it has always been in a good sense. I guess it also depends on the kind of friends we choose to make on Facebook.
This is particularly so with those who use social media like face book.! I have observed some friends of mine flirting online with absolute strangers!. While they may not actually approach a random person with a friend request, they often approach perspms who might be friend of a friend, someone whose interactions they have observed. This third party, generally somenone of the opposite sex might arouse their interest! Some of them are quite casual about this and refer to them as their “facebook friends” !! I don’t know if these people ever meet outside of the virtual world or are content with connecting with each other online. I don’t probe because I don’t want to know…

I see it like this. A knife has many uses. You can cut vegetables with it. A surgeon can use it to save lives. But given to a thief, a dacoit or someone on those lines, the same knife can destroy lives.

Social media is a double-edged instrument. We can use it like the knife - to carve out happier, better lives or destroy the little that we and our families have.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@Swapna Raghu Sanand- you said it!! Everything has a plus and a minus to it. Depends on how we use it!

SG said...

Excellent post. Reaching out to strangers and making virtual friends has become a regular thing now. But people, especially women/girls, should be very very careful. I have heard and read horror stories. Don’t want to go through a lot of examples. Here are a few:

A guy pretending to be a girl befriended a 14 year old girl. After 6 months, he informed her that he is a 45 year old man. The girl got mad and stopped contacting him. After 4 months, she could not remove him from her mind. So she contacted him and renewed her friendship. They agreed to meet. When they met, he kidnapped her and kept her as his sex slave for 3 years. Finally, the poor girl escaped.

Another older guy pretending to be a 30 year guy. Befriended a lot of girls. He told them he would address them as his personal B*tch. And, these poor girls agreed. They included a doctor, a college professor, and an IT expert.

I don’t know about this. But I am told lot of guys in India pretend themselves to be girls in Facebook, Yahoo, etc.

Many guys playing on the emotions of women/girl. They should be careful.

Rhapsody said...

Namaste...
never heard, never seen however it sounds really interesting.

have a wonder filled weekend.
peace.
Rhapsody
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Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Rhapsody, there is a world of wonderful cinema across this world that the western part of the globe has never heard about!!!

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ SG with youngsters I can understand the immaturity but why are adults doing this? I think women are more susceptible to this because of the anonymity that this medium offers. And some unscrupulous guys take advantage. Ofcourse, not all men are unscrupulous. Some may also be really lonely and not having the courage to approach a real woman !

Ankita said...

I am planning to watch this movie very soon..heard a lot of good reviews about this :)

Christopher said...

That was a thoughtful post as usual Meera. Enjoyed reading it and relating it to several people I "know". Virtual friendships fill in a void that is becoming larger as the pace of life increases and time for building relationships is scarce. This is specially true when a longing for companionship grows out of a marriage of not-so-compatible individuals or one who finds it difficult to make friends in the real world. I think virtual / semi-anonymous relationships provide a healthy release of feelings and I suppose it will do good in the long run. However, as in real life, friends in the virtual world come in shades of good, bad, interesting, boring etc. Unlike the real world, its much easier to drop those you don't like! Thanks and keep writing!

Rhapsody said...

Namaste......
stopped by to wish you a joy filled and splendid weekend.

peace.
Rhapsody
http://rappingonamelody.blogspot.ca/
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http://www.shelfari.com/rhapsodyphoenix
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